Aug 10, 2020
The number of sexual assault incidents reported to the Rape Counseling Services center spiked from September to October 2017. (Casey Supple/The Collegian)

#MeToo: A 161% rise in sexual abuse reports in one month

She was 22 when the news director “dragged” her into the production studio.

“I knew it wasn’t right,” said Faith Sidlow, broadcast journalism professor. “But I also had no idea that there was anyone I could talk to about it.”

She didn’t tell her roommates that he had tried to kiss her. “I was so humiliated.”

Sidlow sat among a panel of women and a man Tuesday night recounting memories of sexual harassment she experienced in the workplace. It was the first of the Leon S. Peters Ethics Lecture Series. The discussion was titled “The Me Too Moment: Sexual Harassment and Professional Life.”

The panel comes as the national #MeToo movement holds strong after an explosion of sexual abuse reports were revealed by countless women and men — starting last fall. The wave of allegations have taken down powerful and well-known personalities in media and political circles.

Sidlow began the lecture Tuesday evening with a poll. She asked audience members if they have ever been sexually harassed. She then detailed her own experiences of unwanted physical advances in the workplace.

Moderated by Dr. Kathryn Forbes, the chair of the women’s studies department, the discussion featured a panel of professionals in different disciplines: Sidlow, Dr. Lisa Bryant of the political science department, Ruth Griffin of the theatre arts and dance department and Brett Sutton, an attorney at law with Sutton Hague Law.

Sidlow said harassment typically has less to do with sex and has more to do with power and putting women “in ‘our place.’”

Bryant detailed the historic existence of sexual harassment in politics and the repercussions that have resulted from the #MeToo movement. She specifically mentioned politician Roy Moore and the allegations that he too may have been involved in sexual assault. Those harassment allegations are believed to have brought voters to the polls in order to prevent his election to the Senate in Alabama last year.

“Had there not been a widespread movement to draw attention to what was going on, it’s likely [Moore] would have been elected,” Bryant said. “I believe that’s a political ramification of the #MeToo movement.”

Sidlow said the current state of affairs based on President Donald Trump’s time in office – and before his election – has largely set the tone for society’s response to sexual harassment.

“When a president can brag about groping a woman’s ‘whatever’ and have no repercussions, what kind of message is that sending to other men and women?” Sidlow asked.

Bryant referred to Trump as “the Teflon president” because no allegations or misbehaviors “stick” to the public or the republican party.

Sutton, the attorney on the panel, said there is a one-year statute of limitations for victims to report sexual harassment. He said he believes sexual harassment training, laws and consequences have educated workers and prevented some harassment.

“For many people, the fear of losing their job, the fear of being sued, the fear of ruining their career actually does have an impact,” Sutton said.

Forbes called for bystanders to respond to sexual harassment when they see it happening.

“Especially if you’re in a powerful position, it is absolutely incumbent upon you to act in some way,” Forbes said.

Griffin also called for audience members to speak out about harassment: “Don’t be silent.”

Griffin said her own experiences made her feel like an “it.” She detailed her harassment as “a kind of internalized oppression or hegemony, which was to be quiet and still and be avoidant.”

Bryant told audience members to believe the victims of harassment and be a support network.

She also suggested that the problem of sexual harassment can be stopped with educating both sons and daughters.

“What else do you do except empower your daughters and tell your sons not to be harassers?” Bryant said.

Along with reporting to the police, human resources or supervisors in the workplace, other resources were offered to attendees seeking support.

Among these included the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN), Centro La Familia Advocacy Services, and Rape Counseling Services (RCS) of Fresno.

The sexual assault unit of the Fresno Police Department annually records the number of sexual assault-related reports. The unit has seen a jump from 146 reports in October 2017 to 198 in January 2018.

Fresno police Sgt. Daniel Macias said this may be attributed to public awareness and education about harassment and abuse, allowing victims to come forward even if it is years later.

RCS Fresno also records their 24-hour crisis interventions, which are counted when a rape or sexual assault victim reports an incident – recent or past – to the center.

According to RCS Director Raquel Garcia, the center had 113 crisis interventions in September 2017. That number jumped to 295 in October 2017 – right around the time when #MeToo began trending on social media. It showed about 161 percent increase in sexual assault reports.

It appeared that what began as a hashtag online gained recognition among those not online as a means to open up about abuse.

Fresno City College student Christy Brambila and Fresno State junior Karen Alameddine attended Tuesday night’s event to become more active in the #MeToo movement.

Brambila recalled her own experience being sexually harassed when a supervisor at her mother’s workplace tried to kiss her when she was a young teenager.

She said she told her aunt, her mother and a manager at the establishment. There were no consequences.

“If I would have known back then that I could have [gone] to the authorities about it instead of just to the manager or to my mom about it, I would have done that,” Brambila said. “It just angers me now and I want to be able to do more about it because when you’re little, you don’t know or you don’t understand it.”

Alameddine said that she has seen the #MeToo movement mentioned in the news media and hopes more women and men will join in the conversation.

“I just feel like the power is in numbers, so as long as we’re educating ourselves, we can use that to then educate our kids when we have kids and try to change the perspective of everything,” Alameddine said. “I feel like most of it is the fear that women have to speak out, and I think we need to get rid of that.”

Brambila said the widespread attention of the movement has allowed survivors to no longer feel embarrassed about the abuse they’ve endured.

“We’re able to go ahead and talk about it and not feel ashamed like it was our fault. It wasn’t our fault,” Brambila said.

To report an incident of sexual assault call RCS Fresno at (559) 222-7273.

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